Monday, January 19, 2009

The four letter word of hockey: ‘Ice time’

(For Rubber Magazine's Parental Guidance – February 2009)

It’s one of the most difficult topics to talk about in youth hockey: Ice time. Everyone has a different philosophy about the amount of time each player should get, making it a common topic of debate for both coaches and parents.

The most often heard argument is that every kid should get the exact same amount of ice time. Everyone pays the same fees, right? In theory this makes a lot of sense, but there are a number of factors involved in how shifts are doled out during a game.

For instance, should a player who misses practices or doesn’t work as hard in practices or games still get equal ice time? And what if a player isn’t conditioned as well physically and gets gassed more quickly? Coaches have to account for differing levels of ability, athleticism, and physical fitness. These judgements must be made on the ice during the game.

There are also differing expectations between house and travel teams. Travel teams are more competitive, cost more, and require more time and commitment from players as well as parents. Therefore, parents need to understand there’s a built in expectation that better players will get more ice time. This gets tricky in California because we don’t always have the numbers to support “A,” “B,” and house teams, so many associations are lucky to have just one team.

Tournaments also carry with them some different expectations. Do you try to give every player equal time or do you play to win a little bit harder than during regular season games? Coaches and parents need to clearly understand and communicate these types of team goals so everyone is on the same page before the season starts.

The most important thing to remember is to trust your coach to follow the rules of fair ice time. And if you feel you’re getting shortchanged, have a candid discussion with your coach to find out how he develops his ice time plan. You might find out that there are simple things you can do to help increase your child’s playing time. Managing ice time is not an exact science, but I’ve found that most coaches in USA Hockey do a good job of getting all of their players the time they need to develop their skills and improve their game.

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